A win for the Rams would put them two-wide in front of Seattle having split the season series leaving the tiebreaker to other outputs. A loss would give the Hawks a season sweep and perhaps insurmountable lead.
It’s kind of a big game.
So to get a better understanding of what we’re facing, I linked up with Kenny Arthur from Field Gulls, the SB Nation community for Seahawks fans.
Let's start on offense. You guys are in the bottom half of the league in rushing yards even with QB Russell Wilson putting up the second highest outputs on the ground behind Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton. How much of that is on the offense line? And is the running game holding back the offense as a whole?
A lot of it is on the offensive line. They don't get a lot of push, they don't open lanes, and even after signing Luke Joeckel and trading for Duane Brown, the pass protection really improved but the run game did not. Not that much, at least. However, the running backs are not without blame. Eddie Lacy is very bad at football now, apparently. Thomas Rawls may be bad at football, but we have a harder time figuring out how or why because he rarely gets onto the field. Chris Carson was pretty good at football and they're hoping to get him back from a broken ankle NEXT week, not this week. Mike Davis is the new guy there now and he looked fairly decent against the Jaguars and in some other opportunities he's had.
The running game is holding the Seahawks back because they're less able to grind out leads, when they have them, and unable to really pose the threat of a run needed for play action or RPO. Teams don't really fear the R in RPO, so that kind of negates the value of RPO. Wilson is still fantastic at the R and the P though, so it holds the O back from where it should be, but I guess it could be a lot worse if the Seahawks didn't have a really good quarterback. That's why they're re-designing the offense to be pass first and potentially lead the NFL in pass attempts.
Defensively, is the Legion of Boom over? This is the worst season defensively since Head Coach Pete Carroll's first year in charge in 2010. What's causing the decline?
Injuries. Cliff Avril's season was over after four games and he's an extremely integral piece to the defensive line. Many fans still think the loss of Avril at halftime of the Super Bowl was the number one reason for losing to the Patriots and I'm hard pressed to disagree. New England was stymied when Avril was on the field and then Tom Brady came alive in the fourth quarter. I mean, that's a reputation he has, but the reality, non-hyperbole, non-magical answer is that most teams lose when down 10 points in the fourth quarter, even Brady, and losing Avril was huge that day. Not having him for the last nine games has really hurt too, he's a strip-sack machine. The team is also now playing without Richard Sherman for the first time since 2010 and he was still one of the top corners in the game. Byron Maxwell has been a huge downgrade, getting torched in the loss to Jags by allowing eight of nine targets to be caught for 115 yards and a touchdown. That's sometimes not even a half-season for Sherman. Kam Chancellor is also on IR and like Avril, his career is in doubt. I think Bradley McDougald has been the best backup to be put into a starting role of the bench, so the dropoff there doesn't seem as dramatic, but some have called Chancellor the most important part of the defense and certainly he has his weeks where he is. That's another huge blow to the defense. This week, the Seahawks may also be without Bobby Wagner, who I think is the Defensive Player of the Year (he leads the NFL in solo tackles and has only missed one tackle all season, which is an insane fact when you look at league wide numbers) and KJ Wright, who suffered a concussion last week. Basically, the defense is in shambles because of injury.
I don't know that the LOB is "over." Earl Thomas will be back next year. Sherman will be on a football field next year, but if he gets traded in the offseason, maybe not in Seattle. Kam, we just don't know, but he signed a contract extension this year, so if he's healthy enough to play he'll be a Seahawk. Wagner, Wright, Michael Bennett, Frank Clark, Shaquill Griffin, Jarran Reed are also signed through next year. The defense will continue to be good but maybe they hit their peak in 2013-2015. Another peak may come within Earl's career, Griffin looks like a very good young corner, Reed and Clark are great young player, Wagner is like 28, so I don't think the Seahawks are just gonna go away. They just don't look as fearsome when they lose half of their starters on that side of the ball. They are also maybe just a bit more inconsistent, meaning that one week they'll hold the Rams or Eagles to 10, then the next give up 31. That's the weirdest part and makes it so unpredictable for Sunday. If Wagner isn't there though, I think it's a lot more predictable: It'll be hard for me to watch.
Week 13, you guys played a nearly perfect game against the Philadelphia Eagles. A week later, you allowed three touchdowns to the Jacksonville Jaguars' offense albeit with one coming on the back of that long punt return. Is the inconsistency a concern?
The defense had given up three points in 33 snaps with Wagner on the field, and 27 points when he left the game. The concern is a Seattle defense without Wagner. And yeah, you hit the nail on the head like what I was saying in the prior question, it's just inconsistent. But mostly it's inconsistent in the fact that the Seahawks defense was mostly the same in being dominant play to play, but then would give up an explosive play (15 yard run, 20 yard pass) that they usually never used to give up. The other thing is that the Seahawks are the worst team in the NFL on 3rd and 10 or longer. That's super annoying and when you can't get off the field in situations where you should get off the field, that kills you. When you have the ball on offense but penalties kill half your drives and you're forced to punt it back to the other team, that's annoying. Seattle is a lot of what you're used to seeing from 2012 to now, but it's just the small little details that have changed them from dominant to beatable.
If you could say one positive thing definitively about the 2017 Seahawks above all else, what would it be? What about a negative aspect?
Russell Wilson is my MVP and Bobby Wagner is my DPOY. Call me a homer all day long, the stats and video gives each a super compelling and defensible argument and I don't think there's a single candidate up to the par of Wagner. With Wentz' injury/loss to Seattle and Brady's December slump, I don't know why Wilson couldn't win the MVP. The last time a team had a MVP and a DPOY was the 1994 49ers, with Steve Young and Deion Sanders. This team is not the 1994 49ers, which is why it's all the weirder that I think these two could actually do it. Wilson is 29 and I think he has 8-10 more years of being a top-5 quarterback, sometimes a top-2 QB once Brady retires. Him and Aaron Rodgers. I mean, maybe a young guy jumps over him in the next 2-3 years but Wilson has a proven track record and has taken part in a lot of wins (NFL record for wins through six seasons) and a lot of playoff games and that'll make him a key player for the next decade. I think if you have a QB like that, you're always in the conversation. Wilson has developed his game into being a guy who may lead the league in passing yards and passing touchdowns this season, and so many people said that would NEVER happen. It's happening. I think when he refines his 500-600 attempt/season game, he'll be able to compete with Aaron Rodgers in the TD/INT ratio. Right now he's making a few too many mistakes and that's resulted in 11 interceptions, but I believe he's smart enough and dedicated enough to look at the tape and come back next year to be a guy who everyone knows you have to fear within and outside of the pocket. The fact that he may pick up 300-500 rushing yards and get you first downs and escape sacks (and run into sacks) is just another part of what he can do that most humans cannot do. Also, the addition of Duane Brown, who almost certainly will be kept around for next year to finally give Wilson a proper left tackle (Seahawks are ninth in pass protection with Brown, after being 30th before he arrived, per PFF) is another great thing about 2017.
I asked if the LoB is coming to an end. Where's the franchise overall right now? Wilson's under contract through 2019, so there's no concerns there. Carroll's wrapped up for the same period. Is that a fair marker on the horizon? What do you guys have to do between now and then to avoid an organizational collapse?
I think the Seahawks are in a good position mostly because Paul Allen is a relatively hands off owner and he has seen the benefits to being hands off. Tod Lieweke is a name that will carry significant relevance forever in Seattle because he's the guy that decided to fire Jim Mora in 2010 and hire Pete Carroll. He left for the NHL almost immediately after (and is since back in the NFL in an executive role with the league, I believe) but is a good example of just having the right people in place. If the Seahawks continue to hire the right people up top, then the trickle down effect will be as effective as the longstanding success of franchises like the Packers and Steelers, and to a lesser extent, the 49ers, Cowboys, and Broncos. A misstep and you'll instead perhaps fall into the trap of being the Bucs, who had it all defensively for like five years and then immediately fell off a cliff after the Super Bowl. I think it's a good sign that Carroll is maybe too old to find a new inspiration after this one. He had stints with two other NFL franchises in the 90s and it didn't work out, he did the college thing and there's no point in going back, any move within the NFL would be lateral at best. There's always talk of GM John Schneider going back to Green Bay to replace Ted Thompson but it also seems lateral, if not a step backwards because Wilson's got a few more years left than Rodgers, probably. I think Seattle succeeds because they're not afraid to make mistakes and then learn from them. They take chances and sometimes it turns into Wilson, who was short to be a QB, or Sherman, who was tall to be a cornerback, or Doug Baldwin, who was given a starting job almost immediately despite being an undrafted free agent, and they pay off. Sometimes it turns into spending the least amount of money in the NFL on the offensive line and your quarterback is getting hit immediately and you can't run the football. They're not perfect and they never claimed to be. The 2017 season can either be a stepping stone towards three more years of success or it can be the moment you sunk your future for the present (the Seahawks traded their 2nd round pick for Sheldon Richardson and their third round pick on Brown). They were playing to win now, not in 2018, but in 2018, they'll play to win in 2018. That'll be a huge offseason for them because guys like Richardson, Paul Richardson, Jimmy Graham, Luke Joeckel, McDougald are all free agents. They can't pay them all. Will they pay the right guys? Will they add the right guys? Will recent draft picks like Malik McDowell and Germain Ifedi ever work out? (McDowell missed the whole season after an offseason ATV accident, Ifedi is the most heavily penalized player in the league.) There's a lot of questions but because of Allen, Schneider, Carroll, and Wilson, I think Seattle will at least remain competitive for the next 2 years. Past that, I don't think you can predict the future of any team. Even the Patriots could be on the bottom by 2020.
And the Rams could be on top.
Thanks to my man KA for the time.